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268                                                                                                             B. POLEVOI
around the Tractor Works, for which it had been awarded
the Order of the Red Banner. Olya wrote that they were
having a very hard time, that everything—from canned
meat to shovels—had to be brought from the other side
of the Volga, which was continuously under machine-
gun fire. She also wrote that not a single building had
remained intact in the city and the ground was pitted
with craters and looked like an enlarged photograph of
the moon.
Olya wrote that when she left the hospital she and
others were taken through Stalingrad in a car, and she
saw piles of bodies of dead Germans that had been col-
lected for burial. Many were still lying along the roads!
"How 1 wished that your friend the tankman, I have for-
gotten his name, the one whose whole family was killed,
could come here and see all this with his own eyes. Upon
my word, I think all this ought to be photographed for
the movies and shown to people like him. Let them see
what vengeance we have taken on the enemy!" At the
end she wrote—Alexei read this unintelligible sentence
several times—that now, after the battle of Stalingrad, she
felt that she was worthy of him, hero of heroes. The
letter had been written in a hurry, at a railway station
where their train had stopped. She did not know where
they were going and so could not tell him what her P. 0.
number would be. Consequently, until he received the
next letter from her, Alexei was unable to write and say
that it was she, that little, frail girl who had toiled so
zealously in the very thick of the fight, that was the real
"hero of heroes". He turned the envelope over again,
and in the sender** address read the distinctly written
name: Guards Junior Lieutenant-Technician Olga So-
Every time he had a moment to spare at the airfield
Alexei took this letter out and read it again, and for a
long time it seemed to warm him in the piercing winter
wind in the airfield, and in the freezing class-room "9a",
which still served as his home.
At last, Instructor Naumov fixed a day for his test
flight. He was to fly a fighter-trainer, and the flight was
to be examined not by the instructor, but by the Chief of
Staff of the school, that same stout, ruddy-faced, robust